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Legitimate Rape? A Rape Victim and Counselor Reflects on Rape Culture Myths

11:08 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kim Shults for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A caricature of Todd Akin

Todd Akin isn't the only one who believe myths about rape (Image: Donkey Hotey / Flickr)

“The events as you’ve described them, Kim, constitute a felony rape. If you do not make a statement, we will still proceed with prosecution and regard you as a hostile witness.”

I was 20 years old, on a semester leave from college. Those were the words of the police officer to me, in a hospital room, after I recounted what had happened to me a couple of days earlier.

It was my first interaction with the police, other than Officer Friendly visiting my elementary school class, or one of the officers my parents had befriended when they started a Neighborhood Watch program in the community where I was raised. Surely I could trust the police, I thought, to understand what had happened and to help me.

Although this was more than 20 years ago, I remember the moment vividly, because it was the acknowledgment, the naming, of something I had been struggling ferociously to reject: I was raped.

I desperately wanted it to be something else, like a misunderstanding between me and this man I’d been dating for a week or so. I felt locked in a life-or-death battle to deny this heinous violation, because it threatened to undo me–my sense of personal safety and well being, my mental health, my personhood.

In the years since, I’ve had lots of therapy, including group therapy with fellow survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I’ve volunteered at two rape crisis centers. One involved a speakers’ panel, visiting college classes, rehab facilities, police training sessions, even a group of men incarcerated for violent crimes including rape. At the other center, I served as hotline counselor and in-hospital victims’ advocate. Most of the other volunteers had stories of their own survival, and saw their volunteer efforts as a way to give back, to create and foster the same kind of community that enabled us to find our own voices and our sanity, to reclaim our selves and reassemble the pieces of our lives.

I rarely think about the assault and its aftermath anymore. The counseling, both giving and receiving, not to mention the tremendous education I got from the centers where I volunteered, helped make triggering a rare event for me. The experience became just one painful part of my life, rather than its central, agonizing, defining core. Occasionally (about every two years in the District of Columbia) I am called for jury duty. As part of voir dire, I have to tell the judge and attorneys that I have been the victim of a crime. When pressed for details, I recall them with startling clarity. My account is invariably met with compassion, followed by a quick dismissal.

Despite the officer’s words to me in that hospital room, the justice system and all those I encountered as I navigated my way through it seemed hell bent on proving that what I had experienced was not, in the words of Senate candidate Akin of Missouri, “legitimate rape.”

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How Governments and Individuals — Meaning Each of Us — Deny the Persistence of Racism and Abuse

11:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

When you work on human rights issues, you notice a certain pattern in government denial of abuse. First line of defense: it didn’t happen. Or if it happened, they did it to themselves. Or if they didn’t, we certainly had nothing to do with it. Or if we did, we didn’t mean to. It doesn’t matter if the issue is torture, forced evictions, or garden-variety employment discrimination. The response from those in charge is often, if not always, the same.

Though this pattern is annoying, to say the least, I have lately become acutely aware of a much more depressing trend: the denial of abuse among those of us who should know better. Of course, we don’t call it denial. We call it “realism.” But the mechanism is the same.

1. “It didn’t happen.”

For decades, commentators and a large proportion of the US public have posited that racism no longer exists. Despite the fact that skin color and ethnicity matters with regard to just about any social indicator you care to look at — health, education, employment, housing, law enforcement — most white people believe the system we live in is racially just.

The writer Touré has described this situation as a “fog of racism:” a situation so subtle, it is blurred. “With this form of racism,” he says, “there is no smoking gun. There is no one calling you a nigger to your face. There’s no sign saying you can’t enter this building. … But … it’s there.”  

This is not much different from the many people who are genuinely puzzled at the need for continued attention to women’s issues in the United States now that “the genders are equal.” I hear this argument almost daily, despite ample evidence to the contrary, including the continued pay gap and the vicious attack on reproductive rights for women and not men.   

2. “They did it to themselves.”

Blaming the victim is par for the course in rape cases, a context in which it (rightfully) is denounced by women’s groups as sexist, discriminatory, and just plain wrong. But it is also common for individuals who identify sexual or racial discrimination to be called silly, overly sensitive, or even vindictive. 

When I firmly told off a male colleague at a former employer for caressing my waist, a female colleague immediately and loudly concluded that I “must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.” 

And I can’t count the times I have been told that “black people are racist too,” as a manner to excuse racial discrimination. In sociology and social psychology, this phenomenon is called internalized oppression, that is the manner in which an oppressed group comes to use against itself the methods of the oppressor. More commonly, it is expressed as a desire to maintain the dignity of the group: we may suffer, but we don’t complain or sulk. 

3. “We had nothing to do with it.”

Most people don’t like to think of themselves or the people they know as bigots. This is natural and reasonable. It is hard to remain sane if you believe your actions are consistently insensitive or morally wrong. This, however, is not the same as noticing and addressing injustice — especially injustice that we, ourselves, are benefitting from. 

For example, I cannot in good conscience say that I have nothing to do with racism (or sexism, or hetero-centrism, or…) when I know that I benefit daily from a system that overwhelmingly recognizes my humanity and rights because of my Northern passport, fair skin, perceived heterosexuality, motherhood, and Judeo-Christian background (I could go on). Unlike my Peruvian ex-husband, I don’t have to think about what I wear when I travel in order to avoid additional hassles at airport security. And unlike those of my female friends who are non-gender-conforming and childless, I don’t have to defend my worth as a woman.  

4. “We didn’t mean to.”

When all other justifications have failed, the usual fall-back for governments who violate human rights is lack of intent: we may indeed have tortured a couple of prisoners, but it was unknowingly done and therefore, it is implied, of limited importance. 

This excuse is hardly ever used as a denial strategy for continued and entrenched racial, sexual, and other discrimination in the United States. And not because we recognize our responsibility in the stereotypes we perpetuate. But rather because we don’t. In fact, as shown above, we routinely deny the very existence of discrimination.

I am not advocating a collective guilt complex, or, worse, some sort of warped paternalistic pity-fest in which those of privileged background pound our chests in earnest distress and bemoan the supposedly pathetic lives of those considered beneath us. I am, however, advocating a reckoning that allows us to confront those stereotypes that result in the abuse of human rights. Even, and especially, when this means that some of us must give up our special privileges.

And here’s why: I know I am benefiting from many of the stereotypes that prevail in the country I have chosen to live in. I also know I am complicit in the resulting discrimination to the extent that I don’t challenge it.

Why I’m Marching in SlutWalk NYC

9:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

One night in January after a lot of dancing at a friend’s house party in Brooklyn, a male neighbor and I made our way back to our building less than a mile away. We’d both consumed alcoholic beverages but nothing unusual for twenty-somethings on a Saturday night. My roommate had a new love interest at home with him, so to give him some privacy I went back to the neighbor’s apartment to crash, which I’d done several times before. I felt safe going back there as I’d spent a lot of time with this neighbor in a Will & Grace, Glee-watching, Katy Perry-listening kind of way. He’d had a homosexual relationship for more than a year prior to our being neighbors and for all intents and purposes I thought of him and treated him like a gay, male friend.

The next thing I know I’m feeling my pants being pulled down off my body. I heard the neighbor mutter, “Time to take charge of this situation.” And then I felt a small penis trying to enter me from behind. “No. Stop. No. Stop.” I kept repeating. I was in complete shock as I felt him enter me twice while I continued to say, “No. Stop. No. Stop.” I then felt him lift his weight off of my body and retreat. I felt frozen and totally incapacitated.

I didn’t realize fully what happened to me for at least 24 hours after the incident. I was stunned that this neighbor had just sexually violated me. I felt I had no one to turn to and no one who would understand. I looked into possible charges I could file but ultimately chose not to. There was no point in a restraining order, either, as this neighbor lived on the floor directly above mine and there was no way to avoid his constant proximity. I felt extremely uncomfortable in my own apartment building from then on. I informed my landlord of the situation and he did nothing.

When I finally felt able to tell people what happened, I was asked numerous times about what I had been wearing and if I had anything to drink. The fact that I was wearing grey pants and a black sweater and had consumed alcohol that evening should not have any bearing on what happened to me that night in January. That neighbor has since relocated to Florida. Part of me hopes it was the guilt from the crime he committed that drove him away. SlutWalk NYC wants society to know that it’s never acceptable to violate someone sexually and we need to stop blaming the victim after they have been sexually assaulted.

In April I started seeing articles about this movement to end sexual violence that began in Toronto. After a rash of sexual assaults across the York University campus a police officer told a group of college-aged women that in order to avoid being victimized they “should stop dressing like sluts.” This set off a wave of marches across the globe dubbed: SlutWalk. SlutWalk means many different things to many different people. The premise is simple: anyone who is raped did not deserve it and certainly doesn’t deserve to be blamed for the attack. To suggest it is a woman’s fault that she was raped because of a dress she may have worn is completely ludicrous and disrespectful to humanity. There have been over 70 SlutWalk marches worldwide since April and now it has come to the greatest city on Earth.

SlutWalk NYC, October 1 in Union Square, is a march to end sexual violence and rape culture. Join us at noon for the march and at 2pm for the rally. I’ll be there representing every person who has ever been sexually assaulted but never reported it, for whatever reason. We welcome anyone who believes that rape should not be accepted by society any longer. We welcome anyone who believes that nobody deserves to be raped and nobody should be blamed for their attack.

SlutWalk NYC is about eliminating phrases from our cultural lexicon like “she asked for it” with regard to a rape. SlutWalk NYC is about bringing people together to get a dialogue going about sexual violence and what we as citizens can do about it. SlutWalk NYC is about learning how we can all enjoy safe, healthy, consensual sex from now on. SlutWalk NYC on October 1st is just the beginning of this movement! Hope to see you there!

Written by Holly Meyer for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.